Sustainability made simple

How to (Sustainably) Wash Shoes in the Washing Machine: 3 Steps

how to wash dirty sneakers
Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay - Beeki

With mucky spring weather on the horizon, we’re all left wondering how to wash our shoes — is it even possible to clean sneakers by washing them? In this article, we’ll tell you which shoes are machine washable, and what you should keep in mind.

Mud, grass stains, dog poop or chewing gum can all soil shoes, as can the stink from simply wearing them a lot. But that doesn’t mean they belong in the trash. Washing shoes can make them look like new — if you keep a few things in mind. 

Can You Wash All Shoes in the Washing Machine?

The upper part and the sole of the shoes are comprised of different components. Check inside the shoe, and you will find a label indicating which materials it’s made of.

Shoes you can wash in a washing machine include:

  • Cloth shoes made of synthetic material — like sneakers, running shoes, hiking shoes
  • Cloth shoes made of natural materials such as cotton, linen, hemp — for example sneakers or flats
  • Shoes made of rubber and synthetics — like flip-flops or gardening shoes/clogs

How to Wash Shoes in the Washing Machine

cleaning shoes
If you don’t have a specific shoe brush at home, you can also use a nail brush or an old toothbrush to clean the dirt away. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - Lina Verovaya )


  1. Remove coarse dirt before you put sneakers or different shoes in the washing machine. For dry dirt, use a shoe brush or smack your shoes together outside. You can rinse wet mud or dog poop off with a hose.
  2. Pre-treat stains with gall soap or stain-removing soap.
  3. Remove medical insoles from shoes.
  4. Loosen the shoelaces and pull the tongue back to open it wide. You can leave cotton shoelaces pulled in during washing.
  5. Put delicate shoes in a laundry bag. For ones made of synthetic materials, consider using a special laundry bag that collects microplastics — as synthetic fibers from clothing are one of the main causes of microplastics in the ocean.

Washing Process

  1. Select a delicate, cold water wash cycle for washing shoes.
  2. Use mild detergents. Learn how to make your own laundry detergent in our guide.
  3. Avoid using a fabric softener – it can attack the materials of the shoes. Alternatively, use an all-natural homemade fabric softener if you are washing cloth shoes.

Read more: Is Fabric Softener Bad for the Environment?


  • Place the shoes on a clothes drying rack. This will dry them evenly from all sides.
  • Avoid direct sunlight and dry the shoes in the shade so that the colors do not fade. 
  • Don’t place them directly under a heater in the winter, as the heat can damage the material, for example the glue in between layers.
  • Do not put shoes in the dryer, as they can lose their shape and shrink.
  • Washing causes the shoes to lose their waterproofing. Waterproof shoes must therefore be retreated to make them waterproof again. For waterproof shoes, washing them is an absolute last resort.

Tips and Tricks for Cleaning Dirty Sneakers

cleaning dirty sneakers
Trying to remove chewing gum from your shoe can be quite gross. Make it easier for yourself by freezing your shoe! (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay - Ryan McGuire )

Check Color Fastness

Fabrics that are not colorfast will release color when washed. Check the color fastness of fabric sneakers in the washing machine before washing them. Here’s how: 

  1. Spray the shoe with a little water in one spot.
  2. Wait ten minutes and dab the damp area with a cotton cloth. If the fabric gives off color, it is not dyed colorfast and will bleed when washed.
  3. Hand wash these shoes by themselves, or clean them with other sneakers of the same color.


Some cotton fabrics may shrink when washed. Wash cotton shoes/sneakers on the coldest possible wash to avoid shrinking. 

Chewing Gum

Frozen chewing gum comes off the sole easily. Put the shoe in a cloth bag and pop it in the freezer for a night. You can clean frozen chewing gum off your sneakers a lot more easily than gum at room temperature. 


Put some terrycloth towels in the washing machine with your sneakers. The terry loops will rub the dirt out of your shoes during the washing process.

This article has been translated from German by Karen Stankiewicz. You can view the original here: Schuhe waschen: So reinigst du deine Schuhe schonend

** Links to retailers marked with ** or underlined orange are partially partner links: If you buy here, you actively support, because we will receive a small part of the sales proceeds. More info.

Do you like this post?

Thank you very much for voting!